Tortoise and the HareJuly 18, 2016
Racing EuropeAugust 1, 2016
You love your local Green Roads. They are right on your doorstep, you know the routes, no need for a map or GPS, you could ride them blindfolded (though probably best not to try it). But if you're on the bike week after week how long till you begin to look further afield? To pastures new. Undiscovered lands.
For Dick Brew and a group of Teesside & North Yorkshire TRF members, this summer was time to put a plan a year in the making into action. Time to leave God's own country and head west, to Wales...
So you’ve ridden all your local lanes a dozen times, and travelled to neighbouring groups areas and ridden there. You’ve even attended some of the excellent TRF events put on by groups hundreds of miles away. What next?
Members of the Teesside and North Yorkshire TRF had been talking about a trip to Wales for a year or more, but as normal, no one had got round to doing anything about it. So enough was enough, and a nights worth of Google research found, or more accurately rediscovered, The Lion Royal Hotel in Rhayader, home of the Welsh 2 Day Trial.
Old hands will well remember The Lion, and its formidable landlady, Mary Collard, now sadly departed
. A motorcycle racer and mechanic, who looked after countless ‘off-road’ enthusiasts and campaigned long and hard for their rights. The hotel is still in the family, and now her granddaughter, Jane Collard, runs things. An old coaching inn, there is a large secure courtyard and barn, offering ample parking for bikes and vans. The hotel is a little dated, but 2 cosy bars, a separate dining room and clean comfortable bedrooms are more than adequate. Best of all is the genuine warm welcome and hospitality of Jane and her team.
There is nothing to stop you from planning your own routes, but we opted for a local guide, organised by Jane, which proved to be an absolute winner. Peter is a highly experienced and extremely capable rider (having won the Welsh 2 Day twice at Sportsman level), and insisted on giving full value for money – whether we liked it or not!
After a couple of months of advertising the event with both the T&NY and East Yorkshire groups, 8 riders (including Derek, a refugee from Essex) made their own way over to Rhayader on the Friday night, and settled themselves in with a few sociable beers.
After a hearty breakfast, we met our guide for weekend, and after a short briefing, headed out on the trails, starting with a north eastern loop through Bwlch-y-sarnau and Llananno to Crossgates. A couple of gentle lanes lulled us into a cosy false sense of security, and then Peter led us into the forest, with narrow, gnarly, muddy tracks that quickly ‘warmed’ us all up. Out of the woods and into the bracken and slippery traverses across the slopes, led us up onto glorious upland moors.
Trail after trail brought broader and broader smiles, but of course, it was too good to last. An innocuous downhill track crossing a small beck led to a steep rocky incline, which fettled the majority (only Peter and our erstwhile trials rider Stuart and his Montessa FourRide, cleared it in a oner). A good hour and half later we had manhandled the bikes up the slippery Welsh slate. Time for a pint!
The day continued on a second loop starting from Penybont, through New Radnor and Gladestry before dropping down into the Wye Valley and Rhydsence and Gasbury, then back up into the high country, and eventually back home. We were mainly on upland trails, deeply rutted by 4 x 4s (by deep, think of lagoons), but fortunately, most had fairly firm bottoms, so provided the bow wave didn’t swamp you or the bike, they were good fun. Its ‘big country’ up here, and the views are fantastic, especially on the clear sunny day we had. We got back about 6 o’clock, 107 miles done, worn out but very happy. After refuelling, chain greasing and emergency maintenance, bikes were put to bed and riders hosed down, it was time to hit the town for a few beers and curry (well, rude not to). Imagination being a lot greater than reality, relatively little alcohol was consumed, and most were tucked up in bed by 11 o’clock, snoring soundly.
Sunday dawned and stiff bodies were eased into thankfully warm dry riding gear and boots, thanks to the hotel boiler room. The weather was not as kind as the day before, and got progressively wetter as the day wore on. We set off in the opposite direction, following the Wye valley, and after a fair bit of tarmac, headed up into forests and steep valleys around Beulah. The infamous area of Strata Florida and the aptly named Devils Staircase, provided some challenging riding and snorkelling opportunities. One drowned CrossTrainer and a sputtering DRZ later, we emerged back out into civilisation (sort of….) at Pontrhydfendigaid.
A couple of interesting loops around Devils Bridge and Abeffrwd took us to Ffair Rhos, where we returned to the high country with epic vista’s and long, unbroken trails. We then dropped down to a series of reservoirs, including the largest, Claerwen, that had an unbroken 8 mile lane around its northern shore. The Elan River finally brought us back home, after another 100+ mile day, tired, wet and very happy.
Our guide, Peter (never did get his surname) had wanted to do another 20 mile loop, but with 5 hour drives home to look forward too, we all decided to wimp out. Next year, and with the benefit of hindsight, I think it would be wise to stay at the Lion Royal for the Sunday night.
It was a brilliant weekend, well worth the very reasonable cost of the local guide, and one that will be done again. Mary Collard’s legacy of bonhomie for Trail Riders lives on at the Lion Royal and the area of Rhayader really is a place you must ride.
The TRF have 43 regional groups that cover the length and breadth of England and Wales. Connecting with them is a great way to explore new Green Roads. Find you nearest and furthest group here.